During the holiday season, a cornucopia of seasonal fruits and vegetables provides great beginnings for special dishes, and apples are a particular favorite during this time of year. Legends and mythical lore about the apple can be traced throughout history, from the early 1800s when Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees so that settlers in Pennsylvania might have fruit to eat, to the myth of the one that hit Sir Issac Newton on his head.
There are many varieties of the apple today--each being suitable for a different aspect of eatery and cookery. Each has its own distinctive flavor, texture and appearance. Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, for example, have good eye and taste appeal, whereas Cortlands are best for salads, and Rome Beauties and Pippins are best for baking.
In a recent taste test conducted in The Times' Test Kitchen, we compared some locally available apples to a newcomer in the apple market, the Criterion. The Criterion was selected overall as the best tasting for out-of-hand eating, as well as the most ideal for use in any type of cooking and baking, except in instances where color of the apple is a factor.
Distinctive Red Blush
The fruit was discovered in 1968 in a Washington orchard. It is very attractive in appearance, looking much like the Golden Delicious except for a distinctive red blush on one cheek. Like the Red Delicious, the Criterion has five points projecting from its base. It was described by our tasters as crisp and tart, yet sweet and incredibly juicy. It was the hands-down winner for all-purpose use. The Criterion is available at Irvine Ranch Market, Pantry Food and Gelson's.
Apples are fairly low in calorie content. A medium one, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, contains about 76 calories. It ranks high as an internal cleanser, too, an added plus in today's fiber- and fitness-conscious times.
Here is a brief description of some available varieties and some suggestions for their use. Try holding an apple tasting at home, as tastes do differ and you may find contrary results.
RED DELICIOUS--Characterized by its elongated shape, deep red skin color and five knob-like points projecting from the blossom end. Its flesh is white and juicy. It usually is quite firm but can on occasion be mealy and disappointing. It possesses a very sweet taste, which also varies among apples. Red Delicious is best suited for out-of-hand eating or serving sliced with other fruits and topped with a yogurt dressing for dessert. Red Delicious apples are available almost year-round.
GOLDEN DELICIOUS--Color varies from light, bright green to yellowish-golden in very ripe fruit. It possesses a tender skin and rich, fine-grained whitish flesh. The Golden Delicious is an all-purpose apple with a delicately sweet flavor. It is suitable for cooking and baking as well as for out-of-hand snacking or serving sliced in salads.
JONATHAN--Generally a rich red color with tiny white dots. The flesh is creamy white and extremely juicy. The flavor is tart but pleasant, which makes Jonathans ideal for cooking and baking. They are available from September to October.
ROME BEAUTY--Spherical in shape with a brilliant bright red color. They have very strong skin and juicy, mushy flesh. This aromatic apple is best suited for making applesauce and other cooked dishes, as well as for baking.
GRANNY SMITH--Available year-round and moderately tart and very firm. They have been rated excellent for snacking, using in pies and good for baking or use in salads.
GRAVENSTEIN--Moderately tart, juicy and quite tender. Their desirability as a snacking or whole baked fruit is less than for their use cooked in pies.
CORTLAND--A slightly tart apple with tender flesh. It excels in its quality for snacking and use in salads, yet it is still quite suitable for baking and cooking.
NEWTON PIPPIN--A round variety that ranges from pale to bright green. Its flavor is quite tart and thus lends itself well to the sweet candy coating of candy or caramel apples. Pippins are generally quite crisp and hold up well when baked in pies. They begin to brown rather rapidly and should be stored in lemon juice and ice water (about 1/4 cup juice to 1 cup water) if they won't be used immediately.
McINTOSH--With its pale red skin, this variety is ideal for use in baked apple recipes. They are extremely tart and unsuitable for out-of-hand eating or in salads.
1 (15-ounce) package refrigerated ready-made pie crusts
1 teaspoon flour
4 cups sliced peeled apples
1 cup frozen blackberries, thawed and drained
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed and drained
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons creme de cassis liqueur
2 tablespoons butter
Prepare pie crust according to package directions for double-crust pie.
Combine apples, blackberries, cranberries, sugar, cornstarch and liqueur in large bowl. Toss lightly. Spoon apple mixture into crust-lined pie plate. Dot with butter. Top with second crust and flute.